Millions of words have been written about Steve Jobs and the birth of Apple Computer. By the time you finish this courageous and insightful memoir by Chrisann Brennan, you'll realize how little we actually knew about the man who more than any other pulled us into the era of personal tech. Brennan met him in high school, was his lover into their twenties, had a daughter by him, and, through that connection, remained part of his life until he died. This is her story of attempting first to love him, then to understand him, and, finally, to survive him.
The push and pull of their relationship is fascinating, and Brennan dives deeply into what attracted them and what kept them apart. In high school they were both outsiders, with a creative, new-age slant on the world. Together they took LSD, stayed on an alternative farm, sat zazen. Separately, both took a spiritual pilgrimage to India. But underneath it all lay a primal power struggle. Jobs defined himself by his ability to manipulate and persuade others to do his bidding. Chrisann was less verbal and charismatic, but even when overwhelmed by Jobs, held on to a stubborn core of self she wasn't willing to surrender. His power threatening to subsume her identity: at one level this is a classic tale of feminist struggle.
A large part of the book is taken up with Jobs at first denying paternity for their daughter Lisa, and then being forced through DNA testing to acknowledge her. His conduct toward Brennan and Lisa was shameful, and Brennan suffered from it, both financially and emotionally. Although the behavior got better over time, the scars remained. Still, she stays remarkably even handed throughout, acknowledging Jobs intermittent generosity and genuine attempts to be part of Lisa's life while not glossing over his boorish and selfish behaviors.
Brennan has carefully and thoroughly separated the many layers that made up his character, beginning with the trauma of being abandoned by his birth mother and the initially hesitant embrace of his adoptive parents. She is witness to his fierce, observing intelligence as he is formulating his views of the world and his place in it. We see the profound effect of Kobun, his zen master, along with Job's lifelong attraction to the clarity, simplicity and casuistry derived from zen teachings. Chrisann gets bruised by his boundless ambition and the emotional voids that led all too frequently to abusive or amoral behavior.
Among his many talents, Jobs was a master marketer of his and Apple's image. Brennan has taken a lot of lumps over the years from people who had a stake in burnishing the myth of Steve Jobs. She may take even more once this book is published. But she was there at the beginning. She bore witness, was damaged, and endured. This is a brave book, full of striking insights. It reveals a much more equivocal tale of inventive genius than the recent biographies and movies about Jobs have described. Through her insights into Jobs and his time, she helps us understand the strange brew of spiritualism, idealism, materialism, hucksterism and self-absorption that propelled us into the modern age of personal technology.